What do you see when you look in the mirror: a perfectly symmetrical and balanced physique, or at least one frustrating body part that just won't seem to grow? Whether it's small arms, underpowered hamstrings, or thin calves, almost all of us have at least one trouble muscle group or lagging body part that we really want to improve. Luckily, we're not alone, and we're definitely not without help!
Focusing your efforts on a lagging muscle group is key to building a well-rounded physique, and a little expert advice might be just what the doctor ordered. Here are some of the top strategies the elite athletes of Team MuscleTech use to sculpt complete, well-rounded bodies and get every muscle—from big to small—to pop in perfect harmony.
Pump Up The Frequency
When personal trainer Lindsay Cappotelli needs to improve a body part that's fallen behind, she swears by targeted, high-frequency training. "When I want to bring up a lagging muscle group, I'll train it 2-3 times per week," she explains. "One day, I go heavy with lower reps, and I switch things up the following workout by using lighter weight and increasing the volume."
Increased weekly training volume and added stimulation can drive more muscle growth. If you really want to power up a body part, use Cappotelli's approach and add an extra workout—or more time for a target body part on one of your existing lifting days—into your training split! Just be sure that you allow for at least 48 hours of rest between sessions for the same body part.
Pro muscle model Eiren Gauley advocates a similar approach: He loves to add a supplementary workout for slow-growing body parts. "After making sure that sufficient rest periods to grow are already in place, I'll hit a lagging muscle group with supplementary work," he explains. Four days after blasting a body part with heavy compound exercises, he'll head into the gym to perform higher-rep training, often in the 12- to 20-rep range.
The goal of this workout is to stimulate the muscle fibers, rather than annihilate them, so you can drive new growth without overworking any one body part.
"Make sure that you never just go through the motion," Gauley adds, "but slow down and feel every part of the rep from start to finish, driving as much blood as possible into the desired muscle tissue."
Change Your First Exercise
Doing the same routine over and over again for a certain body part can quickly halt your gains in that area, but this doesn't mean you need to scrap your entire routine. Often, small adjustments make enough of a difference to help you break through any growth wall.
To help develop a muscle that's no longer growing, start your workout sessions for that body part with a different exercise. "Starting with different exercises each time allows you to target each muscle with maximum energy," says NPC bikini athlete Katie Miller.
For example: If you're looking to bring up your boulder(less) shoulders, don't revert to dumbbell presses to kick off every lift. Next time, begin with Arnold presses, a standing barbell press, or another compound variation to drive change!
Connect Your Mind to Your Muscle
If you aren't seeing progress with a particular muscle group, you may not be activating it to the best of your ability while training. "Bringing up a lagging muscle group forces you to evaluate your technique and alter it to create a greater mind-muscle connection," says fitness model Shawn Russell. "Once you know how to squeeze or contract a muscle more effectively, you'll actually be able to shape it."
It's easy to let your mind-muscle connection slip when you're lifting heavy and piling on the plates. Sometimes, all you need to do to spur new growth is lower the weight, slow down your tempo, and make squeezing every rep your first priority.
Add or Adjust Reps
For fitness model Jimmy Everett, bringing up a lagging muscle group is all about getting in extra reps. "The more stress you put on a particular muscle group, the bigger it will become," he says, and one of the easiest ways to add stress is to increase your per-set volume by working in a higher rep range.
If you're constantly working at 6-8 reps for your back, for example, then it's time to explore more hypertrophy-specific work in the 8-12 range. If you've mastered those 6-8 reps with a particular weight, consider keeping the weight the same and simply trying to squeeze out more reps with it.
However, if your strength isn't quite at that level, drop the weight by a small percentage before upping your per-set reps.
Add Single-Limb Work
If your lagging muscle group happens to be your arms or legs—or even just one side of your body—consider adding single-limb work to correct the imbalance. "My favorite technique for a lagging body part is unilateral isolation work," says NPC bodybuilder Jesse Hobbs. "My left quad is always lagging, so I'll focus on doing single-leg leg presses, single-leg squats, or single-leg leg extensions to keep things balanced."
If you typically focus on bilateral, barbell, or machine exercises, it's important to add single-limb work to balance your musculature and strength. When you're constantly doing standard lifts using both sides of your body, it's easy for your stronger side to overcompensate. This can leave one side in the dust. Unilateral work will help prevent that from happening.
Check Your Programming
When it comes to carving a well-rounded, symmetrical physique, proper exercise programming is key. "Everyone has a lagging area, sure, but before targeting specific areas, it's important to make sure your entire training regimen is balanced and properly planned," says athlete Danielle Beausoleil.
Remember, your training plan should be founded on compound exercises that develop total-body size and strength. Isolation exercises and target work are great for sculpting, but they should follow core movements like the bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press for complete development.
Furthermore, your training split should address all areas of your body, not just the top or bottom, front or back. If you have an entire lagging area, like your lower body or back musculature, it could be that you're overworking your upper body or "mirror muscles" and undertraining other key body parts. This can lead to strength and physique imbalances, slow growth elsewhere on your body, and injury.
If you feel like your current workout plan is undertraining an entire body part, find a balanced, appropriate training plan for your specific goals in the Find a Plan section.